Third Test, Day 4
Australia 494/7dec and 303/5 (Warner 145; Abbott 3/61)
South Africa 287 all out and 71/4 (Amla 41, De Villiers 16 not out)
Cape Town - The Proteas have had precious little to smile about at Newlands ever since Graeme Smith called wrongly in what will now be the last time in his Test career on Saturday morning.
From the 10 completed sessions in this match, South Africa have yet to win a single one. That type of scenario more often than not ends in a defeat. Heading into the last day of this epic series, it is the result that looks even more likely now than ever before for the Proteas.
The one consolation, and it being only a small one, is the fact that South Africa have at least taken this Test into a final day. At the tea interval, with the Proteas reeling at 15/3, it could easily have degenerated into the farce we saw last week in Port Elizabeth when Australia actually lost nine wickets in the final session to give all the players an extra day on the beach.
The one man who will certainly enjoy some more time on the local beaches after this Test is Smith. The South African Test skipper played his final innings in international cricket on Tuesday after announcing his retirement late on Monday evening.
If it was meant to be the inspiration for one last fourth-innings salvo from the skipper, it was unfortunately not to be, with Smith lasting just 16 minutes at the crease before Mitchell Johnson – his nemesis all series – dug one in short to which Smith could only manage to get an inside edge onto his body.
Alex Doolan took a comfortable catch at short-leg to send an emotional Smith back to the pavilion for the final time in his Test career. He was given a guard of honour by the Australians as he came to the crease and a standing ovation by the Newlands faithful as he left it.
There has been much speculation as to how the World’s No 1 Test team would respond to the challenge of losing Smith and other recently-retired greats like Jacques Kallis, a fact that coach Russell Domingo alluded to in his post-match press conference.
“It was an emotional space. Graeme has been the leader for the past 12 years now. Everybody came into the side knowing Graeme Smith is the captain. All of them started in the side with Smith as the captain. It is definitely a new era that has to dawn. We have lost Smith, Kallis and (Mark) Boucher, those are three big players and I suppose we have to move on,” Domingo said.
The man likely to be tasked with leading South African cricket in its next colourful chapter is AB de Villiers. He already has a mountainous load being the premier batsman in the team, the wicket-keeper and part of the leadership group as the vice-captain.
However, before De Villiers can shift his mind to future responsibilities, he has an immediate challenge ahead of him on Wednesday, and that is to actually still save this Test.
He has already underlined his immense talent of being able to shift gears depending on the situation as he has defiantly moved to just 16 runs from 100 balls as he prepares to lock down one end.
Gone are the innovative sweep shots and dashing cover drives, and instead it was replaced by disciplined leaving of the ball outside off-stump and solid defence as no thought was even being given to the 511-run victory target that was set up by a second century in the match from David Warner (145 from 156 balls).
It is a simple case of pure survival, and that prospect was being fuelled by a 53-run partnership between De Villiers and Hashim Amla that ate up all of 30 overs, only for Amla to be trapped lbw by an in-swinger from James Pattinson shortly before the close.
This period of resistance has given Domingo hope that his team can pull off yet another of their great escapes on Wednesday “There is still hope, I know England played against South Africa like five or six years ago where they were also four down overnight. I remember that (Paul) Collingwood played a good innings that saved the game,” he said.
“The wicket is still pretty good and we have a lot of batting to come, we will be hoping that AB plays the slowest 40 ever, and we have still got Faf who has done it before and JP, who you can back for a 100.”
Plays of the day
Newlands was abuzz all day on Wednesday with everybody from Boeta Cassiem, the local ice-cream man, to the suits in the President enclave having an opinion on Graeme Smith’s shock retirement. Everybody though paid tribute to the great South African leader, firstly when he emerged from the changeroom to lead his team on the field for the final time to departing after his last Test innings. The little handshake from his counterpart Michael Clarke was particularly special.
Why the nightwatchman, Russell?
There were raised eyebrows when South Africa sent out the nightwatchman Kyle Abbott with still 20 minutes to go before close of play. Despite Abbott surviving until Wednesday, Proteas coach Russell Domingo was still quizzed on the decision, which he responded with “It was my decision”. When asked for his reasons, Domingo responded emphatically “Why not?”